I read an article the other day about dialogue and blocking. I have since lost track of it, but its premise struck me: dialogue in a narrative is not the same as dialogue in a movie. It’s simple, but profound, and it’s something I often overlook since I experience stories so often through both film and book.
First off, a couple definitions. Dialogue is the collection of words characters say— hi, how are you, where’s my cat, and so forth. Blocking fills the gaps in the conversation, most notably answering this question: who is speaking right now? The simplest blocking is a dialogue tag. “Find me a stick,” he said. “This is space, I don’t have a stick,” she replied. But ending or beginning every line of dialogue with ‘[pronoun] said/cried/etc.’ can get boring. As you seek to spice it up a little, or as your characters move while they speak, you can put action as blocking instead of a tag. “By all my calculations, Sergeant Roberts actually needs a stick.” The robot scratched its titanium head. “Maybe a candlestick?”
In a script, for film or stage, blocking tells the actor what to do, what emotions they should portray. Here a frown, there a shrug, perhaps now it’s time for a tango? You see that blocking on the screen as you hear the actor’s lines. The two are simultaneous.
Books, on the other hand, can never achieve that. You can only write one sentence at a time— even if you break the sentence in two parts to put some blocking in, the words and the actions don’t happen simultaneously. The reader’s imagination, however, fills this in. Many times, in fact, I’ve read along and found myself imagining faces or gestures the character should be making, based on the words she was saying. Because the writer didn’t want to chop up the character’s words, that blocking never saw the page.
My point is, the dialogue/blocking mix in film is different from the dialogue/blocking mix in books. But the simultaneous stuff isn’t actually the thing. Books and verbal storytelling have another advantage that movies cannot use effectively: the character’s actual thoughts and emotions. Continue reading “And the Toaster Thought…”